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I read Margo Price’s memoir Maybe We’ll Make It. I liked it better than the other two people I know who had read it. What’s astounding to me about it is how, even after Midwest Farmer’s Daughter was in the can, ready to go if just someone would release it and promote it a bit, no one would for a full year, until Jack White finally got ahold of it. It’s just so, so damn hard for a musician to make it. There are so many great people out there who just never have got any attention at all. As a Wussy fan, I know this very well, watching them struggle to even come close to breaking even on a tour when 20 people might show up. I remember when the album came out, I was like “where in the hell did this come from?” It was a fully realized album by someone who was a lifer and finally it just worked out. This is not that different from Drive By Truckers actually. Those guys were going nowhere until their late 30s. They never hit it like Margo did of course, but they are doing alright.

Of course much of the book is her drinking and drugging and trying to make it on these horrible tours. She’s a hippie and that’s fine, I am used to it, but this is why other people I know didn’t like it so much–how compelling is it to read about someone in their early 30s smoking shit tons of weed and shoplifting? But I found the overarching narrative of the book pretty compelling, just because of how all of this led to her relatively late-life acceptance in the music world and the money she deserves for her work. I also came to a greater understanding of Price artistically. The first album was hard-core country and the second was pretty country. The last two albums have moved toward a classic rock-pop sound with tinges of country. They’ve been a bit less successful to my ears and I wondered why she went in this direction. The answer became clear in the book without her saying so–she never really was a “country” artist. She is a jumble of all the American music since the late 50s, but especially up to the late 70s, and so her sound at a given time depends on what is dominating her brain at that moment. That makes a lot of sense.

In other news:

What a shock, Prince’s heirs are a complete disaster and the estate is a mess. Who could have foreseen this……

If you haven’t read Elizabeth’s brilliant dissection of Dylan’s Desire, take care of that problem right now. She’s right too–it’s a completely bonkers album.

Carrie Brownstein music recs!

Nashville Scene’s critics discussion of the country music scene from 2023 is depressing in that the mainstream country world just continues to double down on its white supremacist and revanchist politics.

Make fun of Pitchfork all you want, but it’s gotten much, much better over the years. So Condé Nast ruining it by merging it with GQ and then laying off most of the staff (most if not all the publicly announced layoffs are of women and women of color) is a freaking disaster for the music criticism world. Here’s a good essay about it.

Great in depth profile of the ever fantastic and fascinating Brittany Howard.

On the astoundingly wonderful William Onyeabor. Atomic Bomb is just one of those albums….

You will not be surprised that The Smiths are not happy that Trump is using their music at his fascist rallies.

A few relatively minor deaths this week but worth noting. We lost the great Cajun musician Jo-El Sonnier to a heart attack. I thought I knew most of the people of the late 60s, but I had never even heard of Melanie. And then there’s Milli Vanilli’s producer….

This week’s playlist:

  1. John Hiatt, Crossing Muddy Waters
  2. William Parker, Mass for the Healing of the World
  3. Kate and Anna McGarrigle, self-titled
  4. Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Dancer with Bruised Knees
  5. Hazel Dickens, By the Sweat of My Brow
  6. Kim Gordon, No Home Record
  7. CLAMM, Care
  8. Thumbscrew, Multicolored Midnight
  9. Bonnie Prince Billy, Keeping Secrets Will Destroy You
  10. Drive By Truckers, The Unraveling
  11. Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth, Epicenter (x2)
  12. The Music of Islam, Volume 10
  13. Cuong Vu Trio, Meets Pat Metheny
  14. Wolf Alice, My Love is Cool
  15. Martha, Love Keeps Kicking
  16. Zoh Amba/Chris Corsano/Bill Oructt, The Flower School
  17. Superchunk, What a Time to Be Alive
  18. Fontaines, D.C., Skinty Fia
  19. Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, Foggy Mountain Bluegrass
  20. Sleater-Kinney, self-titled
  21. Ramones, Road to Ruin
  22. Tom T. Hall, Homecoming
  23. Hank Mobley, Straight No Filter
  24. Emiliana Torrini, Me and Armini
  25. Ralph Stanley, Classic Stanley, disc 1
  26. Julia Jacklin, Pre Pleasure
  27. Bill Callahan, Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle
  28. U.S. Girls, Half Free
  29. Drive By Truckers, Live from Austin, TX
  30. Tammy Wynette, You’re Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad
  31. Tough Age, Which Way Am I?
  32. Marvin Gaye, Let’s Get It On
  33. Richard and Linda Thompson, First Light
  34. Iron & Wine, The Creek Drank the Cradle (x2)
  35. The Band, Music from Big Pink
  36. Drive By Truckers, The Dirty South (x2)
  37. Marianne Faithfull, Broken English
  38. Chris Corsano and Bill Orcutt, Brace Up
  39. Jade Jackson, Wilderness
  40. Leonard Cohen, Songs of Leonard Cohen
  41. Herbie Hancock, Speak Like a Child
  42. Miles Davis, Kind of Blue
  43. Jemeel Moondoc, Revolt of the Negro Lawn Jockeys
  44. Bobby Previte, Music of the Moscow Circus
  45. Archie Shepp, The Way Ahead
  46. Keith Jarrett, Treasure Island
  47. Richard Thompson, Amnesia
  48. Purple Mountains, self-titled
  49. James McMurtry, Where’d You Hide the Body
  50. Big Thief, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
  51. Mary Halvorson, Calling All Portraits
  52. Wednesday, Rat Saw God
  53. Sir Douglas Quintet, Live from Austin, TX
  54. The Beatles, Magical Mystery Tour
  55. And This is Free: The Life and Times of Chicago’s Legendary Maxwell Street
  56. Taylor Ho Bynum, Enter the Plustet
  57. Waylon Jennings, Dreaming My Dreams
  58. Wussy, Wussy Duo
  59. Van Morrison, Saint Dominic’s Preview
  60. Ennio Morricone, The Legendary Italian Westerns
  61. Neil Young, Harvest
  62. Funkadelic, Live, Meadowbrook, Rochester, MI, 9/12/71
  63. Jerry Joseph, By the Time Your Rocket Gets to Mars
  64. Sleater-Kinney, Call the Doctor
  65. Bill Callahan, Dream River
  66. St. Vincent, self-titled
  67. Tom T. Hall, The Storyteller
  68. Empress Of, Me
  69. Mates of State, Mountaintops
  70. Waxahatchee, Out in the Storm
  71. Bonnie Prince Billy, Summer in the Southeast
  72. Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Modern Country
  73. Jimmie Dale Gilmore and the Flatlanders, self-titled
  74. Ray Price & The Cherokee Cowboys, Western Strings
  75. George Jones, I’m a People
  76. PJ Harvey, 4 Track Demos
  77. Rosalía, Motomami
  78. Guy Clark, The South Coast of Texas
  79. Caitlin Cary, While You Weren’t Looking
  80. Byron Berline & John Hickman, Double Trouble
  81. Silver Jews, Lookout Mountain Lookout Sea
  82. Carl Smith, Let’s Live a Little
  83. Richard & Linda Thompson, Hokey Pokey
  84. Miles Davis, Bitches Brew Live
  85. James McMurtry, Live in Aught Three
  86. Marika Hackman, I’m Not Your Man
  87. High Lonesome: The Story of Bluegrass Music Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
  88. Sleater-Kinney, The Woods
  89. Jessi Colter, A Country Star is Born
  90. Lydia Loveless, Nothing’s Gonna Stand in My Way Again
  91. Wussy, Left for Dead
  92. Nobody Wins – Stax Southern Soul 1968 – 1975
  93. Gary Stewart, Out of Hand
  94. Old 97s, Hitchhike to Rhome
  95. Van Morrison, Tupelo Honey
  96. The Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed
  97. X, Wild Gift
  98. Tacocat, Lost Time
  99. Algiers, The Underside of Power
  100. Margo Cliker, Valley of Heart’s Delight
  101. Blue Highway, self-titled
  102. Rusty & Doug Kershaw, Louisiana Man
  103. Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight
  104. Tom Waits, Bone Machine
  105. Merle Haggard, A Portrait of Merle Haggard

Album Reviews:

Daphni, Cherry

Another beat-based electronic album that seems to serve no particular purpose. Especially given the albums below that move between challenging and warm, this is just cold. Sure, fine, I should just stop listening to anything called a “dance” album since I am almost never going to like them. But I have liked many more than this.

C

Mivos Quartet, Lei Liang, Six Seasons

I know the Mivos Quartet mostly through their work with Mary Halvorson on her Belladonna album and I was excited to discover more. So here they are working with Lei Liang on his composition titled Six Seasons. Now, this is not going to be for everyone. This is difficult, subtle, modern music. But the intensity of the compositions and the performances really rewarded me.

A

Margo Cilker, Valley of Heart’s Delight

What a promising young singer-songwriter here. This is just fantastic place-based country music from the Pacific Northwest that packs an emotional punch. “I Remember Carolina” is just a classic song, I don’t see how anyone would not like this song unless you just don’t like country or folk music. The place here though is not really Carolina and it’s not really eastern Washington, where she lives. It’s the Santa Clara Valley, where she grew up, and how out of touch she feels about this place so transformed today. This is like John Prine level work here and I am far from the first to make that comparison. This band also really makes it work as they swing through her tunes with aplomb. She’s great and my life is better for having heard (and now bought) this album.

A

Sylvie Courvoisier/Mary Halvorson, Searching for the Disappeared Hour

An appropriate hour in length, this is a fascinating collaboration. While there’s no good reason why the pianist Courvoisier and the guitarist Halvorson wouldn’t work together, to me at least they are in different circles usually. I know Courvoisier from the worlds around her husband Mark Feldman, the cellist Erik Frieldander, and John Zorn. I know Halvorson as a member of the younger jazz crowd bringing a lot of new ideas into free jazz. But there is so much going on behind the scenes that I don’t know about. In any case, this collaboration really works well. Courvoisier brings out the archness in Halvorson and Halvorson brings out something a bit more accessible in Courvoisier.

A-

The Orchids, Dreaming Kind

80s style whiny pop, but of a pretty acceptable kind. I guess that makes sense since the band comes from the early 80s. It works well enough I guess, but I still don’t much care for 80s style whiny pop.

B

Bas Jan, Back to the Swamp

I am surprised I like such an obvious ode to 80s British synthpop as much as this, but it’s really about both the vocals and the interplay between the string effects and the bass. The guy can write and while maybe his talents could be used to a genre that I like better, his vision is pretty clear right now and if I liked the genre better, I’d probably bump this a bit. As is, I could actually see buying it, which really would be unusual for me.

B+

Jamila Woods, Water Made Us

Woods’ follow up to the astounding 2020 album Legacy! Legacy! is less political, but equally gripping. This time, she turns her talents to the classic topic of love. She demands a lot from love and she gives a lot too. Love is not apolitical either, not with her sampling Nikki Giovanni talking to James Baldwin about it. But love is playful and love is intense and love is part of this tremendously complicated, wonderful musician.

A

Lambchop, The Bible

Pure weirdo here, and in a good way. Kurt Wagner (what a name for a musician!) provides a sui generis combination of weird pop, DIY electronics, chamber music, gospel, and whatever else comes to mind. At the very least, this is going to be different than anything you’ve heard this week. Or maybe this year.

B+

Cable Ties, All Her Plans

I don’t know how many great punk bands there are from Australia, but I do know the answer is a lot and most of the times when I hear one, I become a big fan. We see that again with Cable Ties, which is pure, beautiful screeching about the horrors of the world by a singer doing this like her life depended on it, which it very well may. Moreover, who doesn’t love a good leftist punk band. A song like “Silos,” with a super catchy anti-prison chorus, is the right kind of earworm. This album really does what punk was born to do–deal with your anger at this world through loud guitars, loud singing, and loud lyrics. Rock and roll.

A

Shannon Shaw, Shannon in Nashville

Solid voice, decent songs. Somewhat surprised that this 2018 album is her only solo album (she usually records with her band, Shannon and the Clams), both because it was reasonably popular (at least some of the Spotify song plays are surprisingly high) and because she has a good bit of talent. I’m not saying this is mind-blowing, but it is solid modern R&B revival with country and rock overtones. Dan Auerbach produced this, as he has produced so many albums. I’d listen to another solo album.

B

Rhett Miller, The Misfit

The main difference I can see between Old 97s Rhett Miller and solo Rhett Miller is the latter is more pop-oriented and maybe a bit more mainstream. In other words, kind of less interesting Old 97s. It’s not like the songs are meaningfully different. I love Old 97s, but the songs are about love and sex and loss but not that serious of loss and that’s kind of what Rhett Miller writes about. So a less interesting version, or at least less rocking, of these songs just doesn’t make for a great album and I’ve felt that way about his previous solo albums.

Interestingly, when seeing Miller solo live, it is like an Old 97s show if it was solo and acoustic. I guess he knows why people are coming out.

B-

As always, this is an open thread for all things music and art and none things politics.

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